Law firm bids to ‘consumerise’ advice to SMEs with legal and non-legal services

Cook: taking the mystique out of legal services

A northern commercial law firm aims to take on ‘big brand’ new entrants to the legal market with its own portal offering businesses legal and non-legal services.

Butterworths Solicitors has launched fixed-price legal products through its Go! brand for SME clients, but predicts that in the long term, the law part of Go! will make up just 30% of the offering.

Go! went live this week with 18 instructions. Within a year the aim is for a minimum of 250 transactions a month.

Partner John Cook said the separate brand is based entirely around the needs of SMEs and that it will be unique by offering services atypical of law firms.

With established names such as Co-operative Legal Services and Stobart entering the legal market on the back of a strong brand reputation, Mr Cook said Butterworths wants to branch out in the opposite direction.

He said: “Traditionally what lawyers do is only sell the legal services. What we have with Go! is a consumerised commercial brand which you can grab and go ‘out of the box’. None of it is complicated, we are taking the mystique out of it.

“It is partially a response to the way the legal sector is changing. We are a law firm on the large side of a small practice. But just because we are providing regulated services, there’s nothing to stop us giving unregulated services to the same customer base as long as we get it right.”

Mr Cook said the Go! brand has started off with “what they know”, offering quick and easy-to-access fixed-fee agreements for businesses, with a designated commercial lawyer guiding the SME through the transaction.

The £3m turnover firm – which has offices in Carlisle, Gateshead, Penrith and Bury – has a strong residential practice, complemented by private client and moderate commercial transactional revenue of £250,000.

The notion to expand into other services came from working closely with SME clients.

Butterworths hopes to receive 250 instructions a month through Go!

The next stage will be to move into consulting, said Mr Cook, offering clients business organisation packages, before adding marketing services such as branding, web design and business development – which Butterworths already does in-house.

Mr Cook explained: “It is all about businesses coming to a certain portal, not just for legal services. If anything, the long-term future of Go! will be 30% on the legal side. We’ll always practise law because we are lawyers, but you constrain yourself if you only look at legal services.

“There’s lots to learn about big brands coming in with lots of customers. What we are saying is that we totally understand that some of the new entrants are great at obtaining customers, but so are we.

“We know we’re never going to have the turnover of really big brands, but we’ve got a good, trusted legal team and it makes sense to offer other things on the back of that.

“It is the reverse of consumer brands coming into the legal sector. We are saying OK, fine, we are going to go out there and compete in other sectors where our market is and with the right brand.”

Go! will apply the same high volume business processes from its residential conveyancing practice to new workstreams. But Mr Cook said this didn’t mean a “bargain basement” approach.

He said: “There is a certain amount of mystique around commercial work in general which is absolutely unnecessary. We are aiming to strip away that mystique and give the business consumer the services they need at a price they can immediately understand.

“We are using smart technology to drive document production but the process still involves consumer interaction with a qualified lawyer, usually on the telephone, and always at a time to suit the consumer.  We aren’t de-lawyering the process – we are consumerising it; there is a world of difference”.

The consumer portal concept behind Go! is built on the back of the firm’s legal offering, which is geared towards the “least well-served market” of SMEs who have a “real reluctance” to seek legal advice in relation to commercial and business matters because of a concern about spiralling fees and a lack of a relationship in place with a law firm.

He said this is supported by recent Legal Services Board research findings that SMEs face 1.8m legal issues every year with 56% of business owners looking to handle the matters themselves.

Mr Cook said the Go! brand could eventually incorporate other professional services such as accountancy, insurance and financial services, but that regulation around their provision would make this more complicated.

He said changing the structure of the firm to an ABS was not an immediate aim. Butterworths is profitable with critical mass, added Mr Cook, and has the necessary skills in-house, but that in the future if there was the need to abstract external investment, ABS could be considered.

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